There are many factors that go into choosing a new dishwasher, like quietness, reliability, tub material, interior layout - the list goes on. One of the basic things that you need to consider about your new dishwasher before you even open it is the exterior aesthetic. The control placement and handle configuration are some of the biggest contributing factors to the look of a dishwasher.
In this article, we'll explore the differences between these two control placement options to help you decide which option is right for you! (Check out our dishwasher buying guide for more information on choosing a new dishwasher!)
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Top Control vs Front Control - What's the Difference?
When comparing top control vs front control dishwashers, you'll notice they have a very different look and feel.
Front control dishwashers have the controls on the outside front of the door, visible with the door closed. They usually have a pull latch in the center to open the door, often referred to as a "pocket handle." One of the best parts about these models is that they will match with any suite of appliances: because there is no handle, there's no need to match the handle to the other pieces in your kitchen. This can be helpful if you are just replacing your dishwasher. However, if you are considering a whole new suite of appliances, you may want to consider a top control model that will match your new kitchen design and your other new appliances.
Top control dishwashers have the controls on the top of the door, not visible from the front when the door is closed. They usually have a handle on the door to match the handles of other kitchen appliances of the same brand. Some also offer recessed pocket handles. Some higher-end models also have a "time remaining" readout on the front of the dishwasher. It is probably best to take a look at several different options to see how they look and also how they feel to open and close.
If you've ever wanted guests to wonder "Where's the dishwasher? Maybe it's that shiny cabinet by the sink?" - then a dishwasher with integrated controls might be for you!
How Much Do They Cost?
Depending on the brand and the other features included in the dishwasher (like quiet operation - learn more about dishwasher decibels here), the cost of front controls vs top controls varies a lot.
If your budget is under $400 and there's no holiday sale in sight, you will likely end up with a very basic front control model.
Basic top control dishwashers with pared-down interior features start at around $500 from brands like Frigidaire.
A good mid-range dishwasher that's quiet, has a stainless steel tub, and performs well is typically in the $600-800 MSRP range.
Although many high-end models come with these hidden top controls, that doesn't mean front controls are only found on budget models. There are many front control dishwashers that look sleek, thanks to smooth-touch controls and a minimalist design, such as the Maytag MDB4949SKZ. By using a smooth touch panel against the stainless steel rather than plastic push-button controls, this Maytag model offers the elegance of integrated controls with the convenience of front controls. Read our Maytag dishwasher reviews for more info.
And it's not just the expensive dishwashers that offer integrated controls, either! Models with fully integrated top controls start at around $529 MSRP, such as the Frigidaire FFID2426TS in stainless steel, so you don't have to break the bank if you want a seamless look for less. This model offers basic cycles and a plastic interior tub, plus noisier 54-decibel operation - so there are tradeoffs to a dishwasher at this price. Of course, holiday sales and package deals can drop appliance prices by 20% or more - making a range of dishwashers more affordable.
Which is the Better Option for You?
Which should you choose? That depends.
You may prefer a front control model if...
You want controls that are as accessible as possible
You like cycle status indicator lights to show the progress of a cycle or a digital time remaining display
You want a kitchen appliance suite with matching handles and hardware, but don't want to deal with matching the dishwasher handles/want to go for a different brand for your dishwasher
You prefer a recessed handle design (although some top control models also come with pocket handles)
You are looking for a budget dishwasher OR a mid-range model
You may prefer a top control model if...
You want a seamless or minimalist look
You want to avoid accidental button pushes (for example, if there are children in the household)
You don't mind smaller buttons or a smaller control panel overall
You are looking for a higher-end or panel ready dishwasher
You want matching appliance hardware OR don't care if the hardware matches
You can still stop the dishwasher in the middle of a cycle if needed - just open the door a crack and the cycle will pause. In most cases, you need to hit Start before closing the door to resume the cycle.
Integrated controls are associated with high-end dishwashers, and in general, in the debate between top control vs front control dishwashers, it's true that top controls have greater aesthetic appeal. However, front controls don't always look cheap, and they can be more convenient if you like to be able to check what cycle is running and how long it has left.
Style and taste are cyclical - What's popular now may not be popular in a few years. Whether you prefer cohesiveness or convenience, the fact is that you'll be dealing with this appliance on a daily or near-daily basis for years - so make sure you consider all of the factors in addition to aesthetic appeal!
Which option do you prefer? Leave us a comment below - We'd love to hear from you!
Editor's Note: This blog was originally published in June of 2016 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy as of the publication date noted above.